Networks, including the Internet, company intranets, personal home networks, community nets, and more, are quickly becoming the lifeblood of society. Broad and varied methods of communications help educate, coordinate, and give voice to people in many forms: political dialogue, event coordination, collaboration with others, information gathering, and personal empowerment.
But pressure is on to control our publicly accessible networks, and with it, to control our speech, preferences, and interactions with the networked world. With our networks in the control of a few private companies and individuals, we also lose our privacyour right to be free from unwarranted public exposure and scrutiny. There is a market for the many details of our lives, many of which are discovered through our use and searches on the net. We understand the blatant monetary interests that are at stake. We read the news with a critical eye, and see the pressures building.
Toward understanding the networks of the future, NetAction offers two scenarios of future networking. These are not fully developed, but rather sketch out the horizons of two worlds: one largely dominated and controlled by Microsoft (the most powerful of the large corporations that dominate the technology industry), the other largely open to development and use.
Why would we consider such a dichotomy of possibilities? They are strikingly dissimilar in their effects on the public interestincluding individual consumers and the nonprofit sector. While we recognize that some element of control has positive effects (as demonstrated by standards of interoperability which largely made the PC revolution and the Internet possible), we are alarmed by the strong possibility of extreme controls in the hands of a very few.
"This is not a matter for polite presumptions;
we must look the facts in the face."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes
In accordance with the Tunny Act, NetAction recently sent comments to the Department of Justice regarding their Proposed Final Judgment in the Microsoft Anti-trust case. We found that the proposed remedy was not in the public's interest on several levels. One of our primary concerns is that it puts undue and unnecessary control in the hands of a single company whose past has demonstrated it cannot protect our security and does not have a demonstrated interest in our digital safety.
In this paper we expand on the concerns raised in our Tunney Act comments and propose guidelines by which the networks of the future might be analyzed. These guidelines will be used to examine both contexts: The Microsoft Networks (below) and The Open Networks (in Part 2). Following the guidelines, we borrow from the palettes of others in sketching these horizons.
How hard is it to keep working? Microsoft is best known for illegal operations, .DLL failures, the "blue screen of death," and virus/worm problems. If Microsoft is in charge of the user's desktop as they propose on their website and in their press releases, how will these problems be affected? Will consumers be able to avoid, fix or change things that they know are problematic for them? Will consumers have any choices about how their desktop and operating systems are managed?
How authoritative is the information being included in their desktop or user profiles? How will home users know if their personal information has been compromised? What can they do about it? Can malicious hackers get access to a user's secret files?
How easy is the consumer's computing environment to extend? If consumers like the new customizing services and choose to trust Microsoft with their personal data, how seamlessly will their other devices work within the .NET environment? Will they be able to choose to use their devices outside of .NET? Will they need other devices? What if they don't want to use Microsoft's new environment? Will they have a choice?
How well can it handle failures? What happens when a user opens a file with malicious code? How will they recover their files or their system? Will Microsoft insure against failure? What if Microsoft can't fix it? What if they won't?
How hard is it to subvert? Microsoft is well known for being a target of malicious intruders. How secure will this environment be? Will users be able to take steps to protect themselves and their computers?
Resistance to legal or political intervention
How hard is it to shut down? Once Passport and .NET services are in place, and Microsoft becomes a proprietary channel for all of a user's interactions, will they be stoppable? Can consumers change their minds? Given that Microsoft failed to disclose Congressional lobbying efforts during their anti-trust case, can they be trusted to do what's in the consumer's best interest? Or the government's?
How big can it grow? How many users will .NET handle? What happens if Microsoft's servers are down? What happens if people depend on .NET to handle certain tasks which become too slow or complicated for a large number of users to take advantage of?
As we have shown in our Tunney Act comments, the Proposed Final Judgment (Judgment) does not protect consumers from Microsoft's past, current, or future behavior. The Microsoft future looks dismal for consumers on several fronts: privacy, security, competing software and services, digital rights management, and even the very nature of the Internet.
Consumers have a growing concern for their privacy. Each day they learn how much another company knows about themoften more than a person would voluntarily tell those companies if they had a choice. Companies have long been assembling detailed digital personae, or profiles, on how consumers live. Even fewer consumers are willing to let businesses sell such information to third parties who assemble mailing lists for sale. "The public is especially concerned about 'Big Brother' activities: surveillance of individuals by employers or insurers who can look for telling patterns of behavior in data about the individual's location, education, gender, family, income, and purchases." A recent Gartner survey finds that "Many consumers do not want to risk privacy and security for the convenience of having their online identities managed."
The Gartner survey points out that more than half (54%) of the users that register for web sites do so because the site requires it. Further, 5% of users never registertheir concerns are largely to avoid solicitations and because of lack of trust in how the sites handle their financial information.
Microsoft's Passport, .NET, and Hailstorm services promise convenience in trade for trust. However, Microsoft is forcing the issue by requiring users "to send some sort of information about themselveseven if just a numerical activation key based on their hardware profileover an active Internet connection."
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) put it well in their Dec. 11, 2001 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee: "The privacy and security risks are heightened in this situation because of Microsoft's dominance in the operating system, browser, and office applications markets." EPIC points out that Passport, Microsoft's online identification and authentication system, "will enable unprecedented profiling of individuals' browsing and online shopping behaviors and could literally become the tollbooth that controls Internet access for millions of consumers in the United States."
Passport is not the only problem. It is part of the bigger problem: Hailstorm (more on Hailstorm shortly), .NET, XP's mandatory authentication servicessome of the many tools that Microsoft is using to proprietize all Internet and transactional services. Each of these components is designed to squeeze and control the consumer for additional profits and information.
Microsoft's dominance in the home computer market gives them a big step into forcing identity services on consumers. Once locked in, Microsoft will have little incentive to cooperate with other services, vendors, or standards other than to collect tolls. "Over time, Microsoft will ease the consumer's way into services that Passport interacts with and will make it difficult to interact with services that don't comply with Passport."
In no way is this a benefit to consumers. They don't want this kind of power used against them. What option do they have when their hardware becomes obsolete and they need to buy a new computer? They will not have the option of using their old familiar software because they will not have that choice in the marketplace. Their privacy will be lost with the mandatory registration of their new software. And it won't stop there.
Why should consumers trust a company so well known for their security vulnerabilities? Why should they be forced to?
"Without question, Microsoft's dominance in the OS market plays a big part in the security-breach headlines. The sheer number of Microsoft users makes the company a target for hackers, both increasing the chances that security flaws will be discovered and heightening the virus's impact. Many experts, analysts, and hackers believe Microsoft's hegemony isn't the only problem. They say the software simply has too many interfaces that malicious programmers can exploit."
While Microsoft can claim over 90% of the desktop operating systems and 96% of the productivity applications suites, they should also claim four of the biggest sources of vulnerability:
Security is an ongoing battle between Microsoft, their customers, and the computing environment.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has been criticized by computer security experts for developing software that too readily allows code to perform executions on Windows systems, opening the door to viruses that steal data, delete files or leave open back doors on systems for future hacking.
For their part, customers "probably have not downloaded the patches because there are so many of them." This leaves millions of home and office computers open and vulnerableready for hackers to lay a foundation for later coordinated and distributed denial-of-service cyber-attacks. While Microsoft is quick to point out that users must be proactive about security, Microsoft is just as quick to take advantage of the fact that people generally don't change their default settings or icons on their desktops, giving Microsoft a large number of incidental additional users.
Microsoft acknowledges this responsibility on one level, and hides from it on another. For example, how does Microsoft handle the news of publicly-discovered security breaches? They hide it. At last year's Trusted Computing Forum, MS put forward a plan in which researchers and security people would keep quiet about new vulnerabilities for 30 days. "They don't take security seriously. They treat security as a public relations problem," said Bruce Schneier, chief technical officer of Counterpane Technologies Inc., an online security services company.
"An online store operated by Microsoft Corp. [NASDAQ: MSFT] for software developers was unavailable today following reports that a security flaw gave visitors the ability to take control of the site, including access of customer data."
"It's much easier to hide the information than to fix the problem. That's their motivation here. Microsoft put out 60 patches to fix security problems in 1999, 100 last year and 55 [in 2001]. Some of the flaws have been in such important programs as Windows XP and Microsoft's Internet server software, known as IIS. After Nimda and Code Red attacked holes in IIS, an influential Gartner analyst advised clients to look for alternatives."
However, consumers don't always have that option. The vast majority of computers available to them have Microsoft's Windows operating system pre-installed.
What should be done about this gross lack of security? Experts in the field recognize that Microsoft should take more responsibility and be held to a higher standard than they currently hold. An article in Business Week agrees:
"The bottom line: Microsoft should be held to a higher standard for security in these programs. The Colossus of Redmond has a public duty to ensure that these technologies are designed without gaping flaws. No, we can't expect IE or XP to be perfect. But let's try to make it a little safer out there, please."
With this big a market, Microsoft does have a public duty to ensure that home and office computer systems are reasonably secure. Currently, "security" in Microsoft products is a public joke (albeit one that's not funny). In a rush to add new features, Microsoft has long overlooked their duty of care and responsibility to ensure our safety.
A short-sighted court found Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser was not in competition for the browser market, and did not unfairly compete with Netscape in a niche market. Instead, the court agreed with Microsoft that its browser was tightly integrated into the operating system in such a way that it could not be separated. In contrast, Microsoft tried to "tightly integrate" Sun's java programming language into its operating system, but was found by the court to have compromised the market and their license with Sun.
Currently, we see Microsoft moving to tightly integrate other add-on products and services that have proven marketsand were developed by competing companies. A few of the better known firms whose technologies may be excluded from working access to Windows include AOL and Yahoo (default web page & search database, instant messenger), and Real.com (audio/video players, streaming servers); there are many more. Microsoft is poised to extend and secure their monopoly and thus control consumers' desktops and computing activities. We can expect to see Microsoft distorting competition, stifling innovation, and running these other companies out of business if we don't intervene. What's at stake?
Microsoft's own sales literature confirms this direction. (See Top 10 Reasons to Get Windows XP Home Edition, Plus! for Windows XP, Building User-Centric Experiences: An Introduction to .NET, My Services and others.)
Microsoft's MSN web service is the most popular web destinationlargely because Internet Explorer, currently the most common web browser, has default settings that force users to MSN upon first use of the browser, and to the MSN search site when user-entered URLs have a typo or result in some kind of error. "Windows XP is chock full of MSN hooks. The Internet search feature from the Start Menu uses MSN. Windows Media Player drives traffic to MSN, as does the Passport authentication feature found in Windows Messenger. The Photo & Camera Wizard, where people can order online prints from digital images, also directs traffic to MSN." The latest development, "Smart Tags," ties their operating systems and newest applications to their web sites.
"The feature gave Microsoft "some powerful leverage," LeTocq said, particularly since the company can use its products to redirect users to MSN Web properties and eventually sites "with premium paid services." The test version included Smart Tags for sports, stock and university information."
Microsoft is moving toward a new browser: MSN Explorer. "MSN Explorer offers relatively little flexibility compared to IE, and analysts expect the company may push that browser more heavily..." What's to stop Microsoft from creating technical obstacles to installation of any competing add-ons as default functions?
Not surprisingly, the MSN door is not always open to browser competitors. As CNET reported last year, "some people trying to access Microsoft's MSN.com with a non-Microsoft browser are finding themselves locked out." Competing browser users "could not reach the upgraded MSN site. Instead, they were given the option of downloading a version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer."
Yahoo recently developed an upgrade to its service which effectively redirected IE's default hooksavailable only to Windows users (where it's needed most). Yahoo's "add-on exploits little-known customization features in IE and the Windows operating system. It takes over searches in the browser address bar, switches the default e-mail client to Yahoo Mail, embeds its instant messenger within the IE window, adds a Yahoo toolbar below the standard IE menu, places a shortcut to Yahoo Mail on the PC desktop and offers to set the home page to Yahoo.com." While many people find this a welcome change, "analysts predict Microsoft may quickly change its interface to limit competitors' ability to tinker with IE settings on behalf of consumers. 'It would not surprise me if all of a sudden those interfaces changed,' said Carl Howe, an analyst at Forrester Research." Indeed, "Microsoft has always viewed the Web browser as a powerful platform that it needed to control." Now Microsoft's control is being extended to all services on the desktop.
Microsoft's control of consumer desktops is about to become supremely selective, now that they have been awarded a software patent for a "Digital Rights Management operating system." Consumers who care about their privacy rights will be most alarmed by this section:
"The digital rights management operating system also limits the functions the user can perform on the rights-managed data and the trusted application, and can provide a trusted clock used in place of the standard computer clock."
"Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems restrict the use of digital files. DRM technologies can control file access (number of views, length of views), altering, sharing, copying, printing, and saving. These technologies may be contained within the operating system, program software, or in the actual hardware of a device. ...
DRM systems can prevent the anonymous consumption of content. DRM systems could lead to a standard practice where content owners require all purchasers of media to identify themselves. In other areas where individuals can borrow or purchase media, such as video rental stores or libraries, statutory and ethical protections prevent the transfer of personal information linked to the content acquired. ...
In addition to destroying anonymity in access to digital information, DRM can be used to facilitate profiling of users' preference or to limit access to certain content. This marks an important development in the use of copyright law: copyright can regulate duplication of works to protect content owners. Now, copyright is being used as a justification to both protect content and to profile the consumers of content."
The impact? Digital rights management (DRM) systems will not only discourage unauthorized copying, they will discourage (in some cases prohibit) fair use copying by people who may, for example, wish to make a copy of a recording for use in an audio changer which resides in the trunk of their car. DRM will effectively discourage fair use by people who are largely uninterested or too lazy to get around the DRM system, or who are intimidated by copyright owners' threats (rightful or not). Regrettably, the Supreme Court does not appear to have grasped the principle of protecting non-infringing users against nuisance complaints by copyright holders.
Another example: consumers may not be aware that registration of their new XP operating system is now mandatory and may lock them completely out of their systems if they have not registered. Using their old software is not an option if a new computer is required. When consumers buy a new machine, it comes with a new version of Windows, like it or not. It takes a special person to build his own computer so that he might enjoy his familiar version of Windows, or less likely, another operating system. Microsoft is increasingly tying their operating system and software to a specific machine, so when that machine is no longer usable, the Windows license expires with it.
Increasingly, Microsoft is both the desktop and the middleman to a developing set of services (travel, auto buying, stocks, news & sports, etc.). "A monopoly in operating system software is a platform for unprecedented control over the flow of information to consumers. Control over this software can be leveraged to near total control over the computer screen. Dominating the screen means controlling ... what [consumers] see and when they see it." Microsoft will soon be the master desktop gatekeeper, and no one will be able to argue about their decisions. "Experience shows that companies holding that kind of power eventually will exercise market power for their own benefit at the expense of consumers." Having Microsoft in control of the screen and the channel choices is not a good situation for computer users.
Open and unrestrained access to the Internet's broad range of content and services is crucial to an informed citizenry as well as to a robust economy. However, Microsoft would like to be in control here as well. Microsoft seems determined to become a middleman to all of our requests and interactions. As middleman, they will be able to force costly software upgrades, impose mandatory compliance with any and all licenses, and dictate the types and manner of our financial transactions.
"If there is any doubt about Microsoft's determination to expand its Internet strategy through Windows XP, consumers may be reminded of it no fewer than five times as soon as they try the new operating system. In the second through sixth attempts to connect to the Net, Windows XP will implore consumers to sign up for something called Passportan identification technology that, in many ways, is a key to Microsoft's future." Passport registration is required if users expect customer service or support. Prompting for registration includes messages that suggest Microsoft products are necessary to access the Internet, provide greater security, and may be the only applications that work properly with Windows XP. Persuasive posturing for a monopoly.
Passport collects personal information about users: private information like nicknames, special dates, friends and family members, financial information including credit card numbers, utilities like address books and calendars, methods of communications like phone, fax, and voice mail numbers and email addresses, and more. This information is then "managed" (see the Privacy section above) and linked with web use patterns and transactional data. Microsoft proposes to share this database with vendors. This vast intrusive database is all in the name of user identity verification. "The sobering reality is that the overwhelming majority of consumers are not interested in Passport," said Gartner vice president Avivah Litan. "Consumers are primarily concerned with their privacy and security, and they are not willing to sacrifice privacy in exchange for advanced Web interaction services, such as those offered by Passport."
Starting with a mandatory Passport account, Microsoft plans to leverage its dominant position through its server technology called .NET (pronounced "dot net," also known as Hailstorm). .NET is part of "a controversial strategy to transform Microsoft from a traditional software company into a global network of services ranging from communication to entertainment on a subscription basis. If successful, Microsoft could challenge AOL Time Warner and other media giants for control of the Internet and entirely new industriessimilar to the way it has dominated the software market, locking customers into Microsoft-sanctioned goods and services." In other words, Microsoft will use its desktop monopoly to act as supreme gatekeeper:
"Microsoft is moving into an area where they would become much like a toll-taker, where the toll is taken on the transactions that move between a consumer and a business or B2B."
While .NET is being targeted at IT departments, Microsoft clearly has its eyes on the consumer market. "Sources close to the Redmond, Wash., company said it is moving ahead with plans for a Home Network server that will connect computers, electronics and home appliances." Microsoft's user examples "revolve around information being retained in a user-centric architecture, as opposed to an application-centric or device-centric architecture. ... Binding all of these together and providing a unique and secure key for accessing this information would be an Identity service through which the users manage their data, and through which applications request permission to interoperate with this data." So not only is Microsoft interested in controlling user desktops, they're also interested in being gatekeeperusing Microsoft's proprietary standards and interfacesfor any and all devices that connect to the Internet. This power would ultimately marginalize competitors for services such as instant messaging, Internet telephony, media players, and collaborative software. "The clear and present danger is that Microsoft's strategy of bolting its Internet-related services to its Windows, Office and browser monopolies will lead to a monopoly in Internet services. Microsoft will then be in the position of supplanting the Internet as we know it today with an Internet proprietary to Microsoft.”
Why would Microsoft do such a thing? They're in the business of making money.
Consumers are about to feel the financial squeeze tighten even more. While web surfers are watching the Internet turn commercial, Microsoft is leading the charge. "Users of the [.NET] services will be required to pay a fee to use them. Analysts said that if the HailStorm model is widely adoptedand if people will pay a premium for securitythe days of ad-subsidized Internet services, such as free e-mail and messaging, may be over. ... Microsoft's HailStorm model, in contrast, would take content, services and even software away from the PC."
"Analysts said it remains unclear whether these types of services will be attractive enough for consumers to open their wallets. But even if HailStorm fails to take off, the project could pave the way for Microsoft technology to become the standard payment mechanism on the Net."
If Microsoft is allowed to dominate and dictate the interactive and financial protocols on the net, the consequences will be felt not only by American computer users. The Passport and Microsoft's user database will extend its reach in many unforeseen ways. We can't imagine any of them will be in the public's interest.
Through their Digital Rights Management, Microsoft proposes to put "users" in control. Actually, Microsoft is in control.
".NET My Services also turns the industry debate over online privacy on its head. ... .NET My Services uses legal and technical mechanisms to prohibit any unauthorized use... The .NET My Services architecture defines identity, security, and data models that are common to all services and ensure consistency of development and operation. ... .NET My Services will help move the Internet to end-user subscriptions, where users pay for value received."
How trustworthy is .NET if everything about a person is in Microsoft's hands? Even before .NET is available, a "concept virus" has already been published. "'This [virus] is obviously meant to scare customers and Microsoft alike into thinking that .NET servers are vulnerable, and it may succeed,' DiDio told NewsFactor. 'Microsoft has made some significant strides in bolstering the inherent security in its products,' she added, 'but it's also true that neither Microsoft nor any software vendor can make its software impervious to viruses [and other types of] rogue code.'"
Is forcing a pay-by-the-month service on consumers a good thing? Is taking away consumers' ability to choose when they want to upgrade and pay for new software a good thing? Microsoft thinks so. But consumers will see this as a violation of their right to self-determination, their privacy, and their economic well-being. And they will increasingly have little say over their situation.
As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, open standards were largely responsible for the PC revolution and the development of the Internet. Open standards are important because they specify formats or protocols which are published and discussed, tested, improved, agreed to, and used by a large user base (hardware or software companies and their customers, for example). Closed standards, such as many of those used by Microsoft (called "trade secrets"), make it difficult for others to interact properly with those systems. Open vs. closed standards have different impacts on developing future technologies, but also in economic, political, and cultural realms.
The term "open standards" does not mean free. "Open" refers to the information being available. Most people using the Internet benefit by several long-used open standards: RS232 ports in the back of many modems, TCP/IP protocols which carry traffic around the net, and more. What would happen without standards, e.g., if your computer needed a particular kind of modem, or your network would only carry certain kinds of material?
Here, we use the term "Open Network" to refer to a meta-network of telephone, cable, fiber optic, and other networking lines and facilities. The Internet is such a meta-network. When you send or receive messages, web pages, and the like, it doesn't matter which kind of network your message travels on to reach you. In fact, it probably travels over more than one kind of network along its path.
Our guidelines again provide some perspective on this environment.
How hard is it to keep working? Within limits, you can choose the kind of computer and operating system you want. Each of these work with established standards to connect to the net and convey your bits of information. The net itself is largely a collection of open protocols that work together to connect its users. No one is in charge, no one "owns" the network, though many companies own pieces and parts (such as the copper telephone lines, or the fiber optic lines, or the servers of any .com company, etc.) The methods and machinations of the network were created in such a way that many peoplein fact anyone interested and technically knowledgeable enoughcan add to the development and conversation. Several technical societies and non-profit "working groups" coordinate many of the conversations. This works as long as no one company in an extraordinary position of power co-opts the process.
How trustworthy is a home or business computer or network? How will users know if their files, operating system or private networks have been shared or compromised? Can malicious hackers get access to a user's files? In an open network, user manageability, security, and encryption, along with responsible computing practices (backing up files, adjusting security preferences in software and hardware) are more important. Many people are working on developing various tools for use with, and protocols for the net. The private sector (business) has a rolebut does not have an absolute rightto control the network and all devices and information connected to it.
How easy is the consumer's computing environment to extend? Now, you can buy one of many internal or external devices and plug them into your computer. Choice, competition in the marketplace, gives computer users more and diverse goods at better prices. As mentioned earlier, what if you only had the choice of one scanner or one modem? (Do you think it would have a low price?) Similarly, the Internet is largely open to all new comers. Striking a balance between open, enabling technologies and business-oriented, minimally protective environments is key. We don't need, and should not usually have, any particular kind of person, business, operating system, or representative to intermediate, monitor, or control our connection or use of the net.
How well can it handle failures? Dependence on absolute perfection is unnecessary if, for example, slightly less speed gives us a more robust network. Open systems tend to route around problems. The network has many operating systems, interfaces, and layers. Most routing problems are temporary. A virus or malicious code has a harder time propagating and causing harm in a diverse environment. The network has many layers of functionality; harm generally travels on only one at a time.
How hard is it to subvert? Part of the answer is choice. Users have many ways to secure their computers and information. Here, education is key: how widespread is the affected platform? (Bigger targets are more likely targets.) Is the behavior of the users likely to spread the problem? (Such as clicking on an attachment in email.) What do we need to know to protect ourselves? (Such as virus protection, backing up our data, etc.) The other part of the answer is encryption. Many people say they don't have anything to hide, but encryption is more about social and technical responsibility than hiding secrets. Just as we close doors in our house for certain activities, we must have the capability to close doors to others that may abuse or corrupt our resources.
Resistance to legal or political intervention
How hard is it to shut down, or worse, to interfere with the network? When legislation is passed (for good or, as we've seen proposed lately, for shortsighted or one-sided gain), or when the entirety of the network decides to take action, it becomes theoretically possible. Even then, foreign countries, dissidents, and other rogue elements may keep the channels openbut the messages may not be the same as the original author intended. In the same way that governments handle other mechanisms of commerce (roads, airways, waterways), they have responsibilities and duties to the net. But governments, like businesses, malicious or extremist independents, are notand should not bein absolute control.
How big can it grow? As problems are discovered, a vast global network of companies and users can lend their expertise and assistance. Currently, the network's growth is hampered by provider access limitations, DNS and addressing/routing squabbles, and other artificial barriers. If we can move past these, we'll see what "global" really means.
Since we only have parts of an open network now, we can just begin to see what's possible. What kind of activities and developments are likely to be facilitated by a fully-open network? Let's speculate:
The wild growth of the Internet and World-Wide Web over the last 10+ years was all about public involvement: getting and exchanging information quickly and easily. Email is very popular, as is chat and "surfing" the web. In fact, email, chat, web surfing, and many more tools of the Internet were created for a stupid network: it doesn't matter whether you're using a telephone line, ethernet, fiber, wireless, or another technology to send and receive your messages. Furthermore, public interest supports independent media productions, the media-on-demand market is solid, and new ways of communicating with each other are encouraged and tested by people everywhere.
A wide variety of electronics are able to communicate with each other, making networks customizable to meet the needs of any given interest, ability, person, device, house, or community. Different kinds of "networks" can connect and work together, giving new life to grass-roots and community-based efforts through mobile, wireless, landline (telephone line), and other interfaces. New equipment and software developments are integrated smoothly and creatively. Collaboration and educational efforts spring up and are supported by communities with similar capabilities and/or interests.
The network infrastructure is abundant, varied, and connectable. The network itself does not impose restrictions. It is "dumb", or "stupid," in that it doesn't impose conditions on or control the data that it carries. A stupid network is the best thing to encourage innovative, intelligent and flexible devicesthe best thing to support collaboration and self-controlled communities.
An open, or stupid, network has several advantages over our existing networks:
which give users
"One thing about the Stupid Network is clear: the physical elements that comprise the network would be neither expensive nor scarce. There would be little profit margin in shipping dumb bits." A stupid network reduces its own value: "The best network is the hardest one to make money running."
Currently, we have several affronts to this future. Microsoft is but one representative. Hollywood, legacy Bell networks, and a legislative deference to lobbying dollars all confound the possibility of a truly open network.
For example, the network itself has substantial and important non-infringing uses. However, personal attitudes and behaviors continue to be a concern for large media companies who now wish to embed controls in all of our computers, recorders, players, and other technology.
Considering a Microsoft-like network as compared with an open network:
"A paradox arises from the meaning of "best." If "best" meant, "generate the most cash for the network owner," there would be no paradox. But if we accepted this meaning of best, we'd have to be content with the tightly-controlled, relatively thin stream of bits that the telephone companies currently grant us. Stop and think about this. How valuable is a network (web, email, etc) that users can't make full and creative use of?"
Communications networks (telecommunications and cable companies, public utility communications networks, and more) offer a value greater than return on investment: in the form of connectivity and the services it enables. "The best network delivers bits in the largest volumes at the fastest speeds. In addition, the best network is the most open to new communications services; it closes off the fewest futures and elicits the most innovation."
One of our most significant problems is that some existing companies and their respective regulatory environment don't have room for this kind of thinking. But ready or not, networking alternatives are coming: from cities laying municipal fiber networks to individuals and small groups implementing local neighborhood wireless networks, and soon technologies like ultra-wide band wireless and more.
Choose networks that allow you to choose your own tools.
We can't possibly imagine all of the great things we can do if our network remains an unconstrained resource. Exciting ways of connecting, interacting, and effectively and conveniently empowering ourselves are yet to be discovered. Open networks encourage discovery and development. The Microsoft .NET network does not.
About the Author
Judi Clark is currently a law student and President of ManyMedia, a Graphics Communication and Information Services Consultancy. She is also the force behind WomensWork.org, and a member of the NetAction Advisory Board. She has been an instructor in the University of California, Santa Cruz's corporate training department, past treasurer and member of the Board of Directors of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), and served on the Steering Committee for several annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CPF) conferences. She has been involved with many professional and businesswomen's conferences and web sites, and is creator of the Role Model Project for Girls.
NetAction's Tunney Act comments to the Department of Justice, http://netaction.org/msoft/doj-comments.html
Borrowing from Nelson Minar's talk at O'Reilly's Nov. 2001 Peer-to-Peer and Web Services Conference, Things to Measure, slide 184, http://www.nelson.monkey.org/nelson-talks/oreilly-centralization/web-version/nelson-centralization_files/frame.htm (At time of publication, this slide set was temporarily offline.)
Microsoft Fails To Disclose Congressional Lobbying, by Robyn Weisman, NewsFactor Network, January 11, 2002, http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/printer/15750/
Microsoft Treads Narrow Line on Privacy, by Paul DeGroot, Directions on Microsoft, Oct 2001 Update, http://www.directionsonmicrosoft.com/sample/DOMIS/update/2001/10oct/1001mtnlop.htm
Commentary: Identity services on the march, a Gartner Viewpoint, Special to CNET News.com, by Avivah Litan, Gartner Analyst, December 6, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-201-8091107-0.html?tag=prntfr
see note 5
see note 4
EPIC letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee, http://epic.org/privacy/consumer/microsoft/senjud12.11.01.html
see note 5
Hack this! Microsoft and its critics dispute software-security issues, but users make the final call, by Elinor Mills Abreu, September 27, 1999, http://iwsun3.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayStory.pl?/features/990927hack.htm
Virus targets yet-to-be-released Microsoft software, USA Today Tech section, Jan 10, 2002, http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/2002/01/10/microsoft-dot-net-virus.htm
see note 11
Cybersecurity Today and Tomorrow: Pay Now or Pay Later, by Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council; National Academy Press, 2002; http://bob.nap.edu/html/cybersecurity/
Microsoft drawn into new browser war, By Jim Hu, CNET News.com, October 26, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7661190.html
Microsoft Store Offline After Insecurity Exposed, By Brian McWilliams, Newsbytes, 11 Jan 2002, http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/173601.html
Security world skeptical of Microsoft push to keep flaws quiet, SiliconValley.com, Nov 16, 2001, http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svfront/036564.htm
Toward More Cybersecurity in 2002, by Alex Salkever, Business Week, Jan 2 2002, http://www.securityfocus.com/news/302
U.S. v. Microsoft Corp., 980 F.Supp. 537, D.D.C.,1997.
Sun Microsystems, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 21 F.Supp.2d 1109, N.D.Cal.,1998.
Windows XP/.net: Microsoft's Expanding Monopoly: How It Can Harm Consumers and What the Courts Must Do to Preserve Competition, by Consumer Federation of America, 9/26/01, http://www.consumerfed.org/WINXP_anticompetitive_study.pdf
MSN.com shuts out non-Microsoft browsers, by Sandeep Junnarkar, CNET News.com, October 25, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7655334.html?tag=bplst
Microsoft clips Windows XP Smart Tags, by Scott Ard and Steven Musil, CNET News.com June 27, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-6399150.html?tag=bplst
see note 15
MSN.com shuts out non-Microsoft browsers, by Sandeep Junnarkar, CNET News.com, October 25, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7655334.html?tag=bplst
Microsoft belatedly opens access to MSN, by Sandeep Junnarkar, CNET News.com, October 29, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7703818.html?tag=bplst
Microsoft drawn into new browser war, By Jim Hu, CNET News.com, October 26, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7661190.html
see note 15
see note 15
Digital rights management operating system, United States Patent #6,330,670 awarded to England, et al., December 11, 2001, http://cryptome.org/ms-drm-os.htm
Digital Rights Management page, EPIC, http://www.epic.org/privacy/drm/
Langa Letter: January's XP Surprise: The Giant Paperweight, by Fred Langa, Information Week, Jan. 21, 2002, http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020117S0002
At the Crossroads of Choice, The Project to Promote Competition & Innovation in the Digital Age, http://procompetition.org/research/crossroads/crossexec.html
see note 38
Mission: Domination of the Internet, by Joe Wilcox, CNET News.com, October 17, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-201-7501958-0.html
Report: Consumers Nix Microsoft Passport, by Robert Conlin, www.CRMDaily.com, August 23, 2001, http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/13038.html
Windows XP may spark ultimate battle to own the Net, by Joe Wilcox, Mike Ricciuti, Lara Wright and Jim Hu, CNET News.com, October 25, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-201-7540650-0.html
Microsoft.Net--a new monopoly? by Gary Hein, news.com Perspective, August 29, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1276-210-6996815-1.html
The Future of E-Commerce: Caught in a .NET? by Michael Mahoney, www.EcommerceTimes.com, December 26, 2001, http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/15363.html
2002: Year of .Net, by Peter Galli, eWeek, http://www.eweek.com/print_article/0,2668,a%253D20390,00.asp
MSDN Online Column: More or Hess: A Quick Introduction to Hailstorm, by Robert Hess, http://msdn.microsoft.com/nsdnnews/2001/July/hess/print.asp
MICROSOFT'S EXPANDING MONOPOLIES: Casting A Wider .Net, a ProComp Briefing Paper, http://procompetition.org/headlines/051501Overview.html
With HailStorm, think fee, not free, by Joe Wilcox, CNET News.com, March 22, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-202-5218479.html
Gated communities on the horizon, by Stefanie Olsen, Jim Hu and Mike Yamamoto, CNET News.com, June 4, 2001, http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-202-6016950.html
Building User-Centric Experiences: An Introduction to .NET My Services, http://www.microsoft.com/myservices/services/userexperiences.asp
New Virus Breaches .NET Security, by Robyn Weisman, NewsFactor Network, January 10, 2002, http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/printer/15725/
Amusingly, IBM's web site has little to say about their role in history: http://www.research.ibm.com/about/past_history.shtml. Personal computers are loosely defined as the IBM PC in Webopedia: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/I/IBM_PC.html; and defining "standards:" http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/s/standard.html
A Brief History of the Internet, by Barry M. Leiner, Vinton G. Cerf, David D. Clark, Robert E. Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry G. Roberts, Stephen Wolff; http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml Also see: Part III: About RFC's as "Open Documentation, from History of ARPANET: Behind the Net - The untold history of the ARPANET, Or - The "Open" History of the ARPANET/Internet; by Michael Hauben; http://www.dei.isep.ipp.pt/docs/arpa--3.html. Also see The Origins and Future of Open Source Software, by Nathan Newman, http://netaction.org/opensrc/future/create.html in NetAction's Open Source directory.
John Gilmore was quoted in Time Magazine, in 1993, as saying "The Net treats censorship as damage and routes around it." He was talking about Usenet newsgroups, but his quote has grown to mean more.
Dumb network, defined, http://www.commweb.com/encyclopedia/search?term=dumbnetwork. The term "dumb network" was first coined by George Gilder, and "stupid network" by David Isenberg (see below).
The Dawn of the Stupid Network, by David S. Isenberg, originally published in ACM Networker 2.1, Feb/Mar 1998, p 24, http://isen.com/papers/Dawnstupid.html
Rise of the Stupid Network: Why the Intelligent Network was once a good idea, but isn't anymore. One telephone company nerd's odd perspective on the changing value proposition, by David Isenberg, http://www.isen.com/stupid.html
The Paradox of the Best Network, by David Isenberg and David Weinberger, http://netparadox.com
The Senate Committee on Commerce, holding hearings in early March 2002, entitled "Protecting Content in a Digital Age-Promoting Broadband and the Digital Television Transition" heard testimony from Disney's Michael Eisner arguing that digital content needs more protections, that copy-protection requirements would not interfere with the technology industry's business, and that Congress should act immediately to address their concerns. Eisner's testimony is available at: http://www.senate.gov/~commerce/hearings/022802eisner.pdf An interesting article about this hearing is at Wired: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,50754,00.html and from Leslie Vadasz, executive vice president of Intel, the leading opponent of the draft legislation by Chairman Ernest (Fritz) Hollings (D-S.C) which mandates technology for managing digital rights. The Intel testimony delivered by Vadasz is available at: http://www.senate.gov/~commerce/hearings/022802vasdasz.pdf
see note 58
see note 58
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